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International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights & International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

After the first and second world wars, the international community recognised that the world needed an organisation to promote peace and unity in all countries. Founded in 1945, this new organisation, the United Nations (UN), immediately began writing several documents to protect human rights.

One of these documents was the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR aims to promote and protect human rights in the civil and political space. Some of the civil and political rights in the ICCPR include the right to life, the right to vote, the right to freedom of conscience and religion, the right to be free from torture, and the right to a fair trial.

Most of these rights are not absolute. Instead they are subject to reasonable limitations which are created for a legitimate purpose. For example, it may be legitimate to limit a right in order to protect national security, public order or the general welfare of a democratic society. Some rights, such as the right not to be held in slavery and the right to be free from torture are absolute. The ICCPR identifies absolute rights which cannot be infringed in any circumstances.

The UN also adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1966. The ICESCR aims to promote and protect human rights in an individual’s economic, social and cultural life. This includes protecting the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to fair wages and the right to safe working conditions.

The ICESCR requires states to take steps, including legislative measures, to achieve the ‘progressive realisation’ of ICESCR rights. This requires states to demonstrate in good faith the fulfilment of the rights over time, within their capacities. For example, it is assumed that where states have inadequate resources to ensure free education is provided, they will work towards achieving this goal. The UN also assists states to realise these rights through their work, including the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals.